Jump to content
Umpalumpa

Surviving as a fresh criminal defence lawyer GTA?

Recommended Posts

39 minutes ago, CleanHands said:

I hope it's alright if I piggyback off this thread, because I'm seeing some great input from experienced practitioners who know what they are talking about here. I have some follow-up questions if any of you would be so kind as to provide some insight:

  • If someone is able to article with the Crown and get hired as a Crown Prosecutor afterwards, how much would that lessen the growing pains if they then decided to transfer over to defence practice? By that I don't just mean in terms of learning curve (as obviously one would be better equipped), but in terms of earning potential compared to a new call jumping straight in to crim defence.
     
  • Is it totally insane to consider making the switch in that direction, given the salary, job security, etc afford through a Crown job? I feel more defence-oriented ideologically but the thought of putting in some time with the Crown to pay off debt and gain experience and credibility before moving over is very attractive to me. But I've been seeing and hearing of a lot of defence counsel moving to the Crown in recent years while rarely hearing about things flowing the other way (for reasons that seem pretty obvious). The COVID situation obviously only exacerbates this existing imbalance.
     
  • The OP talks about working in the GTA, but how should one's expectations in terms of work and income be adjusted if they are willing to work anywhere in Canada? My understanding is that if one is willing to go to some underserved area in Buttfuck Nowhere, Saskatchewan, they will be able to receive higher level legal aid files far sooner, as well as take on more cash clients sooner due to decreased competition for files, but I'm unsure of the degree of this disparity between locations or what sort of income one could expect in the early days.

Thanks, guys!

I can't comment on the third question. My answers to the first two are intertwined. Although I'm sure that experience as a Crown would ease transition to defence practice somewhat I can't imagine it becomes easier on balance as time goes by. And that's because the price of making the switch also goes up. Yes, you can capitalize to a degree on experience, networks, etc. But it's not going to make a huge difference. It won't mean you have a full docket of cases in a month or something after setting up shop. Compare that to what you get working for the Crown, and the switch becomes harder and harder as time goes by, rather than easier. Which is exactly a conversation I've had with Crowns who'd like to do it, if only they could.

There is a separate but related truth that overall, Crowns are just doing better than defence right now. Not universally or in a guaranteed way. The upper potential for defence work is still far greater than Crown. But overall, the average Crown is far better off than the average defence lawyer. Once you understand and accept that it's going to take anyone time to build an independent practice that's not only sustainable, but is significantly more prolific than the average defence lawyer's practice...well, you've answered your own question.

  • Thanks 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
9 minutes ago, Malicious Prosecutor said:

So in the last 10 years I can think of precisely one Crown who voluntarily went to the defence side (a few others went when they were let go by the Crown), whereas a whole bunch of defence lawyers have come over here.  I believe it's primarily a financial motivation.

Being a Crown you'll learn lots about how to run a file (and consequently how to defend it).  But what you won't learn is how to build a client case.  You will be starting from scratch on that important skill.

I did briefly practice in a small community.  Yes, I feel like I could get clients much more easily than if I was trying to do so in the city.  In particular for family law I had clients seeking me out.  However, not all small towns are created equally.  You'd have to try and do some research to find a community that is sufficiently wealthy enough to hire lawyers, has a high enough crime rate, and has not enough competition.  There's also the fact that you'll always be viewed suspiciously by the residents of that small town until you've really put down roots in that community.

I knew things were slanted in one direction but that figure really drives things home. Thanks for waking me up to that fact.

Good point on my last question; in retrospect I appreciate that it's probably too broad to provide much of an easy answer to, and requires a bit of hard work on my part to sort out.

8 minutes ago, Diplock said:

I can't comment on the third question. My answers to the first two are intertwined. Although I'm sure that experience as a Crown would ease transition to defence practice somewhat I can't imagine it becomes easier on balance as time goes by. And that's because the price of making the switch also goes up. Yes, you can capitalize to a degree on experience, networks, etc. But it's not going to make a huge difference. It won't mean you have a full docket of cases in a month or something after setting up shop. Compare that to what you get working for the Crown, and the switch becomes harder and harder as time goes by, rather than easier. Which is exactly a conversation I've had with Crowns who'd like to do it, if only they could.

There is a separate but related truth that overall, Crowns are just doing better than defence right now. Not universally or in a guaranteed way. The upper potential for defence work is still far greater than Crown. But overall, the average Crown is far better off than the average defence lawyer. Once you understand and accept that it's going to take anyone time to build an independent practice that's not only sustainable, but is significantly more prolific than the average defence lawyer's practice...well, you've answered your own question.

I appreciate you being candid about it, and while that was my reading of the lay of the land, I'm disappointed to hear confirmation.

The funny thing is, in addition to still being able to learn and practice criminal law, one hope I had for Crown work was avoiding the "golden handcuffs" everyone talks about in the BigLaw context. I guess in the crim law context, something along the lines of "bronze handcuffs" are still a real thing.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
2 hours ago, CleanHands said:

I knew things were slanted in one direction but that figure really drives things home. Thanks for waking me up to that fact.

Good point on my last question; in retrospect I appreciate that it's probably too broad to provide much of an easy answer to, and requires a bit of hard work on my part to sort out.

I appreciate you being candid about it, and while that was my reading of the lay of the land, I'm disappointed to hear confirmation.

The funny thing is, in addition to still being able to learn and practice criminal law, one hope I had for Crown work was avoiding the "golden handcuffs" everyone talks about in the BigLaw context. I guess in the crim law context, something along the lines of "bronze handcuffs" are still a real thing.

200 grand a year and pension buys you a whole lot of gold.

Legal aid files barely buy you a good meal every day.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
3 hours ago, CleanHands said:

The funny thing is, in addition to still being able to learn and practice criminal law, one hope I had for Crown work was avoiding the "golden handcuffs" everyone talks about in the BigLaw context. I guess in the crim law context, something along the lines of "bronze handcuffs" are still a real thing.

Let's talk about golden handcuffs.  When it comes to Biglaw I think it usually refers to the whole lifestyle around it - the big house or condo with the huge mortgage - that prevents you from leaving.

I don't think that really applies to the Crown.  There's no lifestyle to working here.  I live in a boring suburb.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
2 minutes ago, Malicious Prosecutor said:

Let's talk about golden handcuffs.  When it comes to Biglaw I think it usually refers to the whole lifestyle around it - the big house or condo with the huge mortgage - that prevents you from leaving.

I don't think that really applies to the Crown.  There's no lifestyle to working here.  I live in a boring suburb.

My point was that that's how it's generally conceptualized, but I think that this discussion illustrates that it's all relative.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
11 minutes ago, Malicious Prosecutor said:

Let's talk about golden handcuffs.  When it comes to Biglaw I think it usually refers to the whole lifestyle around it - the big house or condo with the huge mortgage - that prevents you from leaving.

I don't think that really applies to the Crown.  There's no lifestyle to working here.  I live in a boring suburb.

Well, going from making (as an example, let's use Ontario) around 110k as a sixth year to maybe making 30k take home pay as a first year criminal defence lawyer requires some significant downsizing.

If you're not married, you'd have to move in with roommates and change town areas. If you're married, you'd downsize and maybe even give up a mortgage to rent instead. Maybe sell one car if you have two. Restaurants times 3 per week becomes twice per month. Etc.

Crowns are by any measure other than law measures, wealthy. Criminal defence lawyers starting out really tend to operate near minimum wage levels until (and if) they develop a successful book or business.

At least that's what many criminal law mentors have told me.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
4 hours ago, Malicious Prosecutor said:

Maybe I just have a low opinion of defence lawyers, but I feel like I constantly get requests for offers that are just that - please give me an offer.  I open the file and there's obvious signs that point to some kind of huge back story for the Accused (usually some kind of combination of poverty, homelessness, drugs, alcohol, and mental health issues) - but I can't just guess at what they might be!

It's always a rare pleasure when I get an email or letter setting out some details about an Accused, and even rarer for defence to actually suggest a resolution to me.  If you give me an even half way reasonable offer, and all I need to do is sign off on it, there's a good chance I'm going to say yes, even if it wasn't the offer I would have made.

Which goes back to what I was saying - the key is just in doing the work.

Oddly enough, I’m about to send off an email offer to a crown I havnt met as of yet due to being new to the jurisdiction and courts being closed physically. 
 

Dumb question, but as a crown do you think it make any difference to call up before hand and introduce myself?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
51 minutes ago, neymarsr said:

Oddly enough, I’m about to send off an email offer to a crown I havnt met as of yet due to being new to the jurisdiction and courts being closed physically. 
 

Dumb question, but as a crown do you think it make any difference to call up before hand and introduce myself?

It certainly couldn't hurt.  As the commercials said why don't you "Reach out and touch someone".

Which as I type, I realize that slogan is from the 80s and you probably have no idea what I'm talking about...

But anyways, your Crown probably has a lot more time on their hands than normal and is under pressure to try and close files, so they'd probably welcome the call.

  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
5 hours ago, Malicious Prosecutor said:

Maybe I just have a low opinion of defence lawyers, but I feel like I constantly get requests for offers that are just that - please give me an offer.  I open the file and there's obvious signs that point to some kind of huge back story for the Accused (usually some kind of combination of poverty, homelessness, drugs, alcohol, and mental health issues) - but I can't just guess at what they might be!

It's always a rare pleasure when I get an email or letter setting out some details about an Accused, and even rarer for defence to actually suggest a resolution to me.  If you give me an even half way reasonable offer, and all I need to do is sign off on it, there's a good chance I'm going to say yes, even if it wasn't the offer I would have made.

Which goes back to what I was saying - the key is just in doing the work.

Exactly. It amazes me how few defence counsel will take the time to draft a proper resolution proposal. 
 

You need to know what you can ask for, but you also need to do the work and set out a basis for it in writing. 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
20 hours ago, KingLouis said:

I'll answer the OP's question in a second, but--assuming all things are equal--the poorest defence lawyer I know would have been alive to the issue of making the kind of referrals you've referenced. The real value is in hiring a lawyer who is in close enough with the Crown that the kind of charge your nephew accrued could/would be withdrawn. We're not talking legal acumen here; it's something else. 

Terrible post. You can tell yourself that your colleagues that are rarely seen in court and are getting file after file SOP’d while earning 10x what you do are simply “in with the Crown”, but you are doing yourself and your clients a disservice. 

  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
2 hours ago, QuincyWagstaff said:

Terrible post. You can tell yourself that your colleagues that are rarely seen in court and are getting file after file SOP’d while earning 10x what you do are simply “in with the Crown”, but you are doing yourself and your clients a disservice. 

At a glance, skill and being "in" with the Crown can look like the same thing. There is value in at least being a known quantity to the Crown. Because the difference isn't between someone they like and someone they don't like - it's between being someone they respect to do the job properly and someone they don't.

Look, this is a very complex topic, because there are a lot of routes to the same thing. Respect is earned from different people in different ways. And I won't swear there's no Crown out there that responds to flattery and chuminess rather than the quality of one's work. But the most reliable way to ensure the Crown will give you the best deal available (whatever that may be, on a particular file) is to make damn sure they know if they don't, you'll do your job properly and make them wish the file had been settled more easily. You can achieve that reputation by being humble and diligent or by being an asshole who won't concede an inch of ground. I've seen both work. But if all you know how to do is whine and complain, and the Crown knows you'll roll over to whatever crap they offer your client eventually because the alternative is to actually litigate, which you don't really know how to do...it doesn't matter if they "like" you otherwise. You have no real leverage.

So yes, there's value in being known to the Crown, at least this far. Because unless/until they know you, they can't know if you'll really do the job. But beyond that, I also reject the theory that it's somehow about having an "in" with the Crown. I won't deny that personal relationships can sometimes get things done more easily - a bail variation here, a more favorable set date there. But the idea that the Crown will give major deals to someone they know and like vs. someone they don't based only on knowing and liking them...that assumes a level of unexamined incompetence that's simply not true of most Crowns. That's directly contrary to their mandate. Which requires a Crown behaving that way to be either too dumb to realize they are failing to do their job properly, or else too lazy to care. That's not going to happen too often.

Edited by Diplock
  • Like 5

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
3 hours ago, QuincyWagstaff said:

Terrible post. You can tell yourself that your colleagues that are rarely seen in court and are getting file after file SOP’d while earning 10x what you do are simply “in with the Crown”, but you are doing yourself and your clients a disservice. 

I never said the only arrow in their quiver was being in with the Crown. But if you're talking about having a charge withdrawn early in the process because you told the client to do some anger management counselling, then--yeah--your relationship with the Crown is damn well going to play a big factor. Crowns will punish clients because their lawyers successfully litigate too many files. Sorry, but I've heard it said (by Crowns) too many times to pretend like it's not the truth. You need your lawyer to be competent and also liked enough by your res. Crown that they won't reject a diversion proposal because they have a beef with counsel. Any lawyer can cobble together a diversion plan and propose it to the Crown. Hell, you don't even have to be a lawyer to do that. 

I can't really respond to the part about them earning 10x what I do,  but I'll repeat what I've said many times here: anyone who thinks skill correlates with money or results (outside of the scope of hearings/trials/motions) is going to be very shocked once they enter practice. In many jurisdictions your resolution discussions won't be with the trial-Crown. And then the trial-Crown might be a contract Crown who'll try to convict/detain anything that moves. Or even worse you'll get the Crown's articling student who'll ask the judge to convict on perjured testimony. And then the reality is some Crowns just don't want to listen.

These aren't universal truths, but they are observations about what it's like to be in practice. 

 

 

 

Edited by KingLouis

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I’m not sure how you’re defining legal skill, because it absolutely correlates with income for defence lawyers. Not perfectly, but if you think there is no correlation, you probably have neither. 

  • Like 1
  • Haha 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

The vast majority of Crown take their ethical obligations very seriously, and the allegation that they would “punish clients because their lawyers successfully litigated too many files” is offensive and ludicrous. 
 

What is wrong with you? 

Edited by QuincyWagstaff
  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
28 minutes ago, QuincyWagstaff said:

The vast majority of Crown take their ethical obligations very seriously, and the allegation that they would “punish clients because their lawyers successfully litigated too many files” is offensive and ludicrous. 
 

What is wrong with you? 

Not to mention--even putting ethics aside and looking at things from a purely practical perspective--as @Diplock alluded to in the post literally right above that one, if a Crown knows that a defence lawyer is formidable, that's all the more reason to be more agreeable to resolutions. Any Crown who would rain down hard on an accused because their lawyer is too competent would not just be cartoonishly unethical but also a complete imbecile.

  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Just now, CleanHands said:

Not to mention--even putting ethics aside and looking at things from a purely practical perspective--as @Diplock alluded to in the post literally right above that one, if a Crown knows that a defence lawyer is formidable, that's all the more reason to be more agreeable to resolutions. Any Crown who would rain down hard on an accused because their lawyer is too competent would not just be cartoonishly unethical but also a complete imbecile.

You’re absolutely right. And I assume that much would be obvious to even the most unsophisticated lay observer. 

I really don’t know what to make of @KingLouis. The fact that he  makes such ridiculous assertions while at the same time insinuating that anyone that rejects them is some naive law student is infuriating.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
57 minutes ago, QuincyWagstaff said:

I’m not sure how you’re defining legal skill, because it absolutely correlates with income for defence lawyers. Not perfectly, but if you think there is no correlation, you probably have neither. 

I agree with you on a lot of your other points but here you are off base. I know terrible lawyers with robust practices, and very good lawyers always scraping around for work simple because they are bad at attracting clients. In simple terms, the quality of your work as a lawyer is your product. But good products fail in the marketplace all the time because they aren't sold and marketed well, and that's true in law also. Also true that inferior products can sell well and make lots of money, with better management and salesmanship. 

There is some correlation between legal skill and successful entrepreneurship as a lawyer. But far less than you'd expect. Far less than there should be. And really, that's mainly because the consumers of this product are, sadly, often unable to tell the difference between good legal work and bad.

  • Like 5

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
1 minute ago, Diplock said:

I agree with you on a lot of your other points but here you are off base. I know terrible lawyers with robust practices, and very good lawyers always scraping around for work simple because they are bad at attracting clients. In simple terms, the quality of your work as a lawyer is your product. But good products fail in the marketplace all the time because they aren't sold and marketed well, and that's true in law also. Also true that inferior products can sell well and make lots of money, with better management and salesmanship. 

There is some correlation between legal skill and successful entrepreneurship as a lawyer. But far less than you'd expect. Far less than there should be. And really, that's mainly because the consumers of this product are, sadly, often unable to tell the difference between good legal work and bad.

When I said absolutely correlated, I meant there absolutely is some correlation (and added that they are not perfectly correlated). I don’t think they are always highly correlated. I also simplified my response for the sake of a clap back at KL. 
 

I think we mostly agree on this. I’m one of the first to point to terrible lawyers with unbelievably lucrative practices when this comes up in discussions with my colleagues. But I think they are the exception; there is so much word of mouth and repeat business in criminal law that if you can’t get results it’s quite likely word will get around. My experience has been that even the terrible/incompetent ones tend to have a junior or associate they often work closely with that can do some of the more intellectual/legally challenging heavy lifting. 

  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
2 hours ago, KingLouis said:

I never said the only arrow in their quiver was being in with the Crown. But if you're talking about having a charge withdrawn early in the process because you told the client to do some anger management counselling, then--yeah--your relationship with the Crown is damn well going to play a big factor. Crowns will punish clients because their lawyers successfully litigate too many files. Sorry, but I've heard it said (by Crowns) too many times to pretend like it's not the truth. You need your lawyer to be competent and also liked enough by your res. Crown that they won't reject a diversion proposal because they have a beef with counsel. Any lawyer can cobble together a diversion plan and propose it to the Crown. Hell, you don't even have to be a lawyer to do that. 

You know @KingLouis I thought we were having a moment.  But no, then you go out and insinuate that I got my nephew off on his charges somehow through my connections. I will let you know:

-my nephew is on my wife's side of the family - no shared surname

-I told my nephew and his mom the one thing is to not mention my name

-although in Alberta, he doesn't live in the same town, and charges are handled by a different Crown office

-I don't personally know anyone in that Crown office

-I checked with my own office if there was a conflict - was told no

-I don't hang out with this defence lawyer

-I had a 30 second conversation with him about the file.  He thanked me for the reference, I demurred saying I gave my nephew a list and he earned the retainer, and said that the only thing is he couldn't waive the file into my city.  Lawyer agreed.

  • Like 2

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
21 hours ago, Malicious Prosecutor said:

Maybe I just have a low opinion of defence lawyers, but I feel like I constantly get requests for offers that are just that - please give me an offer.  I open the file and there's obvious signs that point to some kind of huge back story for the Accused (usually some kind of combination of poverty, homelessness, drugs, alcohol, and mental health issues) - but I can't just guess at what they might be!

It's always a rare pleasure when I get an email or letter setting out some details about an Accused, and even rarer for defence to actually suggest a resolution to me.  If you give me an even half way reasonable offer, and all I need to do is sign off on it, there's a good chance I'm going to say yes, even if it wasn't the offer I would have made.

Which goes back to what I was saying - the key is just in doing the work.

I've been guilty of the former a couple of times, but in my defence it's because the accused isn't giving me anything to work with but I still gotta canvas the crown for early resolution positions in order to give the guy his advice.

I'm glad to say that I've pulled off the latter even more times in my humble career. The thing to understand about that is that I might've spent like an 1/2 an hour to 1 hour reviewing the file, 1 to 2 hours getting to know my client (depending on how respectful of my time and how keen they are get things dealt with),  1 to 2 hours drafting my letter or e-mail (depending on how tough of a pitch I'm making) 4-5 hours of sitting around in court and doing the sentencing, and legal aid will pay me, in the end, less than $500 for all that. It's not a sustainable way to make a living.

And that, Umpalumpa, is the very crux of the problem of trying to make your living as a criminal defence lawyer in the city.

  • Like 2

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now

  • Recently Browsing   0 members

    No registered users viewing this page.

×
×
  • Create New...